A Pathway Opens

Immigrant Career Pathways graduates celebrate with ESL instructor Gail Rosin (far left)
and Pathways Program Coordinator Jayna Velez-Molina (far right back row).

November 10, 2016.

It’s graduation day.

Graduation day for the inaugural class of Hartford Public Library‘s Immigrant Career Pathways introductory food service program, a collaboration with Hartford Public Schools‘ Food & Child Nutrition Services.

Nine Hartford immigrants celebrated completion of sixty hours of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes and thirty-six hours of a hands-on internship in a Hartford public school cafeteria preparing them for food service careers. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving (HFPG) funded program offers Hartford’s recent arrivals an opportunity to successfully enter the workforce with knowledge, experience and skills.
Managed by Jayna Velez-Molina, Pathways Program Coordinator, this collaboration extends Hartford’s welcoming hand to immigrants seeking a career opportunity. ESL instructor Gail Rosin’s classes introduce students to food service terminology and the basics of what constitutes good food service practice. But it requires more than classroom instruction. Practical application is critical.

An excited  Maria Vasquez displays her Immigrant Career Pathways Certificate of Program Completion presented by Gail Rosin (left) and Jayna Velez-Molina (right)

Lonnie Burt, the Hartford Public Schools’ Food & Child Nutrition Services Director, provides each student with a thirty-six hour on-the-job-training internship in one of the school system’s fifty-two school cafeterias. “It’s a great way to provide training to help immigrants get ahead. Additionally, it introduces diversity into the school system’s cafeterias, and offers the potential to provide cultural food options reflective of the community,” Burt said. “It’s also a winning way for the school system’s food services program to identify potential employees for job openings which occur routinely,” she added.

In the future, today’s graduates can further their careers by taking an advanced class, also funded by HFPG, for experienced food service workers. Taught by Trish Lawson, the school system’s Field Manager for Food & Child Nutrition Services, students learn the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe sanitation standards, and apply them through school cafeteria internships, as well. It’s required training for the national food protection exam to become a QFO – a qualified food operator. In Connecticut at least one person per food service establishment that prepares and serves food must have this important certification. Thirteen other students who just completed this advanced class, which requires another thirty-six hour internship, took the ServSafe exam on November 8th and are awaiting their results.

Left to right Trish Lawson, Lonnie Burt and Gustavo Sanchez celebrate Mr. Sanchez’s graduation.

A combined total of twenty-two immigrants, nine in the introductory course and thirteen in the advanced course, who arrived in Hartford from Mexico, Peru, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Thailand, and Colombia, participated in the Immigrant Career Pathways food service program.

As a measure of the program’s success, four of today’s nine graduates have been hired for entry level positions in the school food system according to Wanda Dunaway, the Food & Child Nutrition Services Organization Manager. Capital Workforce Partners also participates in this initiative by providing resume preparation assistance, and job search support to facilitate entry into the local workforce.

Community collaborations work. This innovative community collaboration has opened a career pathway affording Hartford’s new arrivals an opportunity to secure their first job in the United States. 
The next cycle of classes begins in January 2017. Contact Jayna Velez-Molina (jvelezmolina@hplct.org) at the Hartford Public Library for details.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

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